Mira puttered back into the guestroom quietly after checking in with the ship. She had slept poorly, woken early, and was a bit stubbly in the scalp. But, she still felt much better this morning than she had last night. It’s going to be a lovely day, the doctor decided. I’ll go pick up the laboratory report and Peter will stay and rest and then I … when did he become Peter?
She glanced at the bed to find Carlacci awake and looking at her. He had levered himself to a sitting position, spreading the blanket across his lap. “Good morning,” he said, smiling. His dark hair with its long white streak was still badly rumpled, and he tried to straighten it with one hand.
Mira smiled back brightly. “Good morning. How do you feel? Your wound looked good this morning. Do you need help to the toilet?” Ever practical, Mira rarely balked at mentioning the unmentionables of life.
She was rewarded with a brilliant blush. When Carlacci regained his composure, he said, “I think I can manage. When I need to.”
The doctor shrugged. Only the distinct twinkle in her eye showed that his discomfort hadn’t passed unnoticed. “Very well, try not to put too much stress on that muscle. I’ll be back in the afternoon, I’m sure. I can change your bandage and check the wound again then.”
“Wait a minute! I’d better come with you. It’s daylight, but you should still have an escort.”
She retrieved her MedKit from the corner. Turning back to the naked man on the bed, Mira raised an elegant eyebrow. “I think you had best stay exactly where you are and rest. I’ll be fine. I can do a decent job of taking care of myself in the daytime crowded streets.”
He sighed a little. “Mira, I … I promised I would look after you.”
Her other eyebrow went up to say hello to its twin. “Promised? Promised who?”
“Myself, among others.”
Mira put down her kit and pursed her lips to say something snide … but found she really had nothing to say. To be honest with myself, she thought, I’m a little flattered. Even though I know it’s just the Ranger coming out in him. She shook her head instead, her braid snaking back and forth through the air. “I’m not sure I approve of that, but I’m not going to argue about it.”
“I’m glad,” he said, as he began to turn himself around to sit on the edge of the bed, “because I don’t like the thought of arguing with –” he lapsed into silence with a wince and a sudden clenching of his teeth. “Just give me a few minutes to get some fresh clothes,” he added after a long, deep breath.
Mira dug around in the kit for a moment and came up with a small bulb of clear liquid about the size of her thumbnail. “Of course. But first, squeeze this under your tongue. It will help with the pain.” Mira handed him the drug.
He nodded and complied, opening his mouth and tucking the little vial under his tongue. Mira watched to make certain, and then picked up her kit. “I’ll wait for you outside.”
Mira waited a short while outside the door and then put down her kit and went back in. Carlacci was flat on the floor, still mostly naked. His good leg was in the pants he was still clutching, while his bad leg hung out.
She just chuckled and took the pants away. “I didn’t lie to you,” she said, knowing he couldn’t hear her. “The drug will help with pain, it just has this side effect of making humans unconscious.” Mira put some pillows under him and covered him securely with the blankets before she left. She tried not to linger, though it was a struggle. Then, she went in search of Narate.
The doctor found the innkeeper in the office and smiled a greeting at her. “I’m going back to the hospital for some hours. I’ve had to drug Carlacci to keep him from trying to come with me. His leg needs more rest. He should start to wake around noon. The girl on the couch should be waking up at about that time as well. You’ve been so kind to us, are you certain that having two cranky recently drugged people to look after won’t greatly annoy you?”
“It is far more pleasant than dealing with frightened, dying people,” the Abbai said with a sad, remote expression that she managed to turn into a wry smile. “It will be no trouble.”
Mira touched to older woman’s hand lightly. “I know what you feel. I am still grateful. I will try to be back quickly.”
Narate nodded. “On your way, then.”
When Mira returned several hours later, she found Carlacci, this time fully and neatly dressed, sitting in a chair in the room they were sharing. He opened his eyes and lowered his hands from their meditative pose, and said, “How did things go at the hospital?”
Mira dropped her bulging kit and removed her jacket with its equally bulging pockets. She was hot and sweaty and vaguely annoyed. “As well as can be expected. Like any lab, the person I needed wasn’t there … we had to wait … they lost some of the samples … had to find them … a machine malfunctioned … had to fix it … had to have sixty thousand papers filled out in triplicate.” She sat on the floor with a huge sigh. “Sometimes I wonder about the runnings of a hospital. You look better for having had a good sleep.”
The corner of his mouth tugged upward as he looked down at her. “Sounds like you had a tough time. Too bad you couldn’t drug all of those people into submission.”
The Centauri chuckled. Her accent came out, “Ahh, no, I just had to kill a few of them and stuff their bodies down the laundry chutes.”
His eyes widened in mock horror. “Remind me never to make you really angry.”
Mira laughed. “Bah! I’m Centauri! I don’t get angry, I conquer worlds.” She shook her head. “I need to clean up a bit. It is disgustingly hot and mugged out there.”
“Muggy,” he said, grinning. He was getting used to this by now. “Mugged is what happened to us last night, more or less.” He pointed to a stack of towels and several bottles on the side table. “Narate left these for you, and says she has some clothes as well, if you want the ones you’re wearing cleaned. Apparently she’s had Centauri ladies visit before, though it’s been a little while.”
Mira’s face lit up like a flash fire. “Truly?! Oh, that’s wonderful! I thought I would have to put these back on.” She bounced to her feet and swooped up an armful of bath supplies. “I’ll just go find her on my way,” she said, trotting happily out of the room.
Mira reappeared a short hour later. Her small portion of brown hair was damp and hanging loose over her recently depilated scalp like a veil. She tugged at the plain blue gown that was only slightly too wide and too short for her. It had most likely been someone’s servant’s dress. No one was in the guestroom, so she wandered into the sitting room.
Carlacci looked up from the data reader he’d retrieved from Mira’s bag. “Que bella,” he murmured softly, then added in a normal voice, “Feel better?”
“Infinitely better.” She grinned and noticed the tired-looking girl on the couch. “Ah, you’re awake,” she said in Interlac.
The young Abbai looked blankly back at her, until Carlacci spoke several words in a soft, fluid language. She answered in kind, and Carlacci looked back at Mira. “She says, ‘Thanks to you,’ and apologizes for not understanding you. She only knows Abbai dialects. Her name is Reeakiss, by the way.”
Mira smiled and plopped herself down beside the girl. She patted her hand softly. “No, it is my fault for not taking the time to learn a few words of Abbai. How are you feeling?”
Carlacci relayed Mira’s words to the girl, who smiled briefly as she answered, though by the time she had finished, her expression had slid back into apprehension. “She says she is much better, and she wants to help us, but she is frightened that her pimp will come back and take her onto the streets again. She wants our protection.”
Mira blinked. “Pimp.” She made a face. “I honestly detest pimps. All the ones I have ever met have been nasty persons. Does he own you? Do you need your papers bought?” Mira remembered having to buy her brother and nieces from their pimp. She also remembered Vince Fragomeni’s help with the matter and said a mental prayer for the late captain.
As Carlacci translated, the girl lowered her head, shaking it hard as she answered. “No, she worked for him at first because she hadn’t any other place, but now he won’t let her go,” he said.
Mira frowned and absently rubbed the girl’s hand. “Is that why he was beating you? You said you wanted to leave?”
She nodded emphatically at Carlacci’s translation, nodding again as he relayed her answer. “She says she’s sick of it all, and even the drugs don’t help anymore. She’s willing to work hard, if it’s fair work.” Carlacci leaned a little closer and spoke softly. “Which gives me an idea.”
Mira turned to him and leaned a bit closer as well. “Oh?”
“If she’s been taking the same stuff as our other victims, it might be a good idea to give her a more thorough physical. We could take her back up to the ship.”
Mira nodded, “Yes, that’s true. Have you asked her about the black pebbles yet?”
He nodded. “Whatever this stuff is, the pebbles must be dipped in it. Swallow the pebble, you get the goods. I think they did something like that on Earth with slips of paper, a couple hundred years ago.”
Mira snorted. “What a horrible way to administer a drug. There’s no easy way to adjust the dosage.” She noticed the girl was looking nervous at all the talk that she couldn’t understand. Mira patted her hand reassuringly and smiled.
Carlacci also smiled at her, and said a few words in Abbai before turning back to Mira. “Shall we take her up with us then? It’ll at least buy her some time.”
“Yes, I want to analyze the pebble she has in her system. Maybe they have different pebbles.”
He nodded, and turned back to the girl, who emitted a joyful cry before he had even finished speaking, slipping to the floor and hugging first Mira’s knees, then Carlacci’s. “I don’t think I need to translate that,” he said, a fresh blush creeping across his cheeks.
Mira chuckled. He blushes so easily, she thought delightedly. “No, I think I get the idea.”
Copyright (c) 2000 Mona Hinds and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.